This past weekend I followed my Adventure Foot to Des Moines, Iowa to ride the New Belgium Cruiser Century with my husband and our two friends Ryan and Jayme. Basically, when we heard there was an easy-going 100 mile bike ride featuring beer tastings at every stop we sad, “sign us up!”
Our hosts showed us a great time in Des Moines the night before the ride. Highlights included the Court Avenue Brewery where the beer and the food were both superb. I had braised duck with sweet potato hash… good lord. It was delicious. And my husband and I partook in the Capitol’s Beer Flight, which was full of surprises and great flavors. If you ever go, be careful with their 21st Amendment brew; its high alcohol content will sneak up on you! We made one more stop at a really neat German-themed bar before we called it an early night.
Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, right. Bike ride.
The New Belgium Cruiser Century, we discovered, was just conceived by 3 guys out having some beers. They wondered if they could get guys on New Belgium Cruisers to go 100 miles. Then they decided any cruiser would do. Then they changed their minds a third time and decided to allow any kind of bike, so long as the rider knew this ride was about fun, friends and beer, but not speed. Basically, this was a perfect first century for our friends, because it was very low pressure.
The route was a combination of 3 Iowa Rails to Trails projects- the Raccoon River Trail, the Great Western Trail and the High Trestle Trail. These three trails combine to make over 80 miles of paved multi-use recreational paths through Central Iowa and are frequented by runners, walkers, bikers and more.
We rode to the start at a bar called Mullets (Party in the Back) that is just across from the Iowa Cubs’ stadium near downtown Des Moines. The organizers of the ride had originally planned for about 30 riders… and then 150 showed up. What a crowd! I’d say the mix was about 50/50 road bikes to cruiser bikes. The oldest bike there was from the 1930s and was a true classic cruiser.
The route started out through Des Moines proper and over a gorgeous pedestrian bridge that’s suspended over the Des Moines River. We were off to a good start and headed to an offshoot of the Des Moines called the Raccoon River. The trail meandered with the river for 4 or 5 miles and the big group of bikes all stuck together. It was lovely. Until…
When we got out of the river valley, the route went up a climb and then out onto the prairie. The windy, windy prairie. The story of the next 45 odd miles was all about wind. 20-30 mph headwind. The. Whole. Time.
The headwind wasn’t too hard to handle at first because our legs were fresh, but it can really start to wear you down mentally to pedal that hard and have such slow speeds into that wind.
There were stops along the way to resupply, but no organized SAG. At around 15 miles we stopped at a gas station and then at 35 there was a bar called Night Hawks where we stopped for lunch and to wait out a short downpour of rain. When the rain stopped and it looked a little better we hit the road until…
Not 3 miles out of the bar, another little black cloud decided to rain on our parade. With nowhere to go, we just got soaked. The water in my shoes was the worst. Someday I need to find a pair of shoes with drain holes in the bottom. Does that exist?
Anyway, we kept trucking until the rain stopped and shortly thereafter pulled into another bar called Flat Tire Lounge. It was pretty neat to have so many bicycle-themed establishments there on the trail. One of the best features of Rails-to-Trails projects is the impact they can have on local economies. It’s neat to see the bike-themed restaurants thriving. I laid my shoes and socks out in the sun while we sampled New Belgium’s Shift Lager and then we hit the trail again. Which was great…. except that the headwind had gotten even worse and it rained on us again. Sigh.
The highlight of the entire ride had to be the High Trestle Bridge. This artful half mile piece of trail spans the Des Moines River Valley from 13 stories above the water. You can see for miles and miles in any direction. The old railroad that was here before has been transformed into abstract squares over the bridge which give a tunnel effect. It was my favorite part of the trail and I’m told it’s even more fun at night when the iron arches are lit!
The ride turned around in Woodward, Iowa at a bar called the Whistling Donkey. Oh! It’s worth mentioning that somehow at nearly every single stop I ran into another rider named Jo and her husband. I told her she would make the blog- so Jo, if you’re reading, here you are!!
The whole ride was different when we turned around to head back to Des Moines. Excepting a few miles of crosswind at the beginning, once we turned around we had the wind at our backs and really flew. We were riding 18-22 mph and barely pedaling. Our clothes dried out and the sun came up. Ahhhhhh! Sweet, sweet tailwind.
When we arrived back in Des Moines a few miles shy of 100, we decided to head back up the Great Western Trail to finish the Century off. I counted down the tenths of miles and shouted out 100 just as we were passing a pair of runners. They clapped and I know it made us all feel good!
The 1st New Belgium Cruiser Century was a saga of ups and downs, but mostly I’m glad to have gone to Des Moines to share Ryan and Jayme’s first Century experience. I presented them with Quincy Bike Club First Century Certificates and we celebrated with meatball subs and pizza at a restaurant Orlando’s on the Bike Trail. I hope this becomes an annual event, and maybe sometime soon I’ll get up the nerve to try it on a Cruiser!